Expand all collapsed items in a list in OS X

FinderIconXThere are many times in OS X when you will come across items organized into list, be it in Finder windows where you might have List View selected, or Mail messages that are organized into conversations. You might also find this in panels like the Finder info window’s various categories, or in places in the system preferences. If you regularly use these lists, then you might benefit from a little trick to help reveal or conceal items in them.

For many lists in OS X, you will see subcategories (e.g., Folders in Finder window lists) have a small triangle next to them to indicate whether or not they are open. Clicking this will turn the triangle down, and reveal the contents of the category; however, this will only open the first level of the category.

Finder List view in OS X

Holding the Option key and pressing the right arrow in List view will expand the folder and all subfolders. Without using Option, only the selected folder will be opened. This will work for any selection of folders in the current window (click for larger view).

If you have multiple subcategories in a window, and especially if they are nested within each other, you can open them all by holding the Option key when clicking the arrow to reveal the category’s arrow to open it. This will expand the category and any that are within it, so you can see the hierarchy of items it contains.

This can be quite convenient for viewing a hierarchy, but may be more useful for ensuring all categories within a hierarchy are collapsed. For example, if you are perusing list view and upon opening or expanding a folder you see a large hierarchy of files expanded to reveal hundreds of items, you can manage this quickly by Option-clicking the triangle next to the parent category to collapse them all, and then proceed with opening them one at a time.

Finder Info Window in OS X

Option-clicking the triangles in the Finder info window will expand all items in the window (click for larger view).

While useful for managing nested items, you might at times want to open or collapse list items that are next to each other, such as all of the directories that are in your current Finder window. There are several quick approaches to doing this, but the easiest one is to forego the use of the triangles, and instead use the arrow keys on your keyboard, where at least in the Finder you can press the Right arrow on selected items in List View to expand them.

Along these lines, you can expand all the folders in a current directory by simply selecting them all (press Command-A, or Command-click specific ones to add or remove them from the selection), and then press the Right arrow to expand them. If needed, you can press Option-Right Arrow to expand the entire hierarchy of items in them.

Note that this approach is limited to List View in the Finder, and may not be applicable to other lists you see in OS X, but for most such lists you should be able to expand and collapse categories and sub-contents by clicking the associated triangle either with or without the Option key held down.

2 thoughts on “Expand all collapsed items in a list in OS X

  1. pixtl

    Wow! Mac pre OS X, circa 1990s, providing a directory/printout listing project files contained on a disc, just like you’ve got here. Not so easy with today’s Finder, but lo and behold: found your page while searching for an online tip. Many thanks for posting this hidden yet essential key command.

  2. Dan Grant

    Good Call. I’ve been using a Mac for over 25 years. and I never knew you could use the arrow keys to open and close folders. Thanks a million

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